Tag Archives: family

Family Stories

10 May
Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 10.04.24 AM

Left to right, Karen Foltz (my Mom), Anna Foltz (nee Stein, my Grandma), and David Foltz (my uncle)

I come from a family of storytellers. There are more than a few interesting ones to tell about family history alone. Some family members, my Dad and paternal Grandmother among them, are/were amazing oral storytellers. This made my childhood quite colorful and gave me the gift of imagination. The gene for telling stories was not passed on to me, but I can write decently enough to help continue sharing them. So I do.

Among the true stories, some are easier to tell than others. Today I was thinking about my Mom and my maternal Grandmother, as we get ready for Mother’s Day 2014. Much of my childhood, my Mom was housebound dealing with severe agoraphobia. She didn’t really leave the house for years, pretty much from the time I was five until I was in high school. I have a close relationship with my Mom and learned a lot from here during that tough time, mainly about resilience and spirituality. Thanks to modern-day anti-depressants, Mom doesn’t have to stay stuck at home anymore, which is a great thing.

My Dad was busy working most of the time when I was a kid, when Mom was sick, so my brother and I spent a lot of time at my Grandma’s house. She was the caretaker for a well-to-do family in Reynoldsburg named the Hafts. They had a large house on a bit of land right off Main Street. Inside the house was a bar, which was a real sign of wealth as far as I could tell. Their old stable had been converted into two apartments behind the house, and Grandma lived in one of them. I could walk to kindergarten from there, and every day I passed by a house where a monkey lived in the backyard, on a chain.

Grandma took care of the elderly Hafts to make a living, and my brother and I played in the little woods between her home and the Haft’s house. We rode our bikes up and down the lane and climbed high in the pine trees and sat up there for hours, getting sap all over our hands and legs, and were difficult about coming down when Dad picked us up.

From those trees we could see the awesome set-up of a neighbor family that had bought a trampoline for their kids. It was, according to all adults in our family, an irresponsible thing to do and sure to result in injury. But we loved to watch the kids jump on it and wished we could, too. When we were not in the pine trees, we could see the kids’ top halves flying up above the six-foot fence. It really wasn’t fair, but in the end we had the woods to run around in, and they didn’t.

When Grandma wasn’t stuck in her chair with back problems, she was getting herself in trouble with my Mom by trimming our bangs (unevenly), encouraging us with art projects (she was quite the artist), or patiently listening while I played the first Wings album over and over again. I remember her being patient when I flipped out over any TV shows featuring UFOs. Much to my brother’s disappointment, she made us turn off any program involving guns (including “Bonanza” and “Big Valley”). I remember that she helped us save a baby bird we found under a tree. We put it into a shoebox with some old cloths to keep it warm. It died anyway, but we tried.

Image

Robert Foltz

Much of Grandma’s life, and by extension my Mom’s, was greatly influenced by my Grandfather, a man I never met. His name was Robert Foltz, and he left for WWII when my Mom was five. While overseas, he met a Canadian nurse and sent Grandma divorce papers around Christmastime. I’m not sure what year it was. He was very intelligent and handled logistics for the Army, and I believe he worked for a long time after his service in high-level corporate positions dealing with transportation.

He passed away a few years ago, and in his obituary his family thanked his long-time personal nurse. When my Grandma passed, I was in my mid-20s. My parents were away on vacation, so someone from the nursing home called to tell me that she had “expired.” I was devastated, really, because I’d always had a close relationship with her. But I had just visited with her and was the last to see her alive, so I was glad for that.

My husband often uses my Grandma as an example for why Social Security exists. She worked her entire life in various creative ways. After her husband left, her older brothers and sisters let her live at the old family house, which she rented out as a home for unwed mothers. She did the women’s fashion window displays at Lazarus in the 50s, and she worked in the paint department at a store in Florida. In the 60s, she was a house mother for Grant Nursing School. Over the years, she always worked but never made a lot of money, and died in a place that took Medicare and Medicaid. My Mom and uncle ate a lot of ketchup sandwiches growing up, and my Mom’s toes are curled because she never had shoes that fit. My Grandfather did pay back child custody years later, after my Grandma took him to court, but that was after Mom and my uncle were grown. I don’t think that his second family really knows much about us.

There are always two sides to every story. I have no doubt that my Grandmother, as much as I loved her, was not an easy person to live with. So I’m sure that Robert Foltz had some reasons for deciding to leave. But I think it haunted my Mom for years, and still does. He never wanted to have any contact with his old family. I think Mom talked with him on the phone from time to time. She always wanted to see him but never did after he left. Sometimes when people go, there’s just an empty hole that the people left behind have to find a way to fill.

I wish I’d met him, too. He sounds like a person I would have liked, despite the family history.

 

 

 

Memories of the Hawaiian Room and Outer Space

23 Nov
Image courtesy of bulldogz at freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of bulldogz at freedigitalphotos.net

My uncle Barney Barnes just passed away. He was 82 years old, extremely intelligent, and a unique individual. I know that his widow and my Dad’s eldest sister, Aunt June, misses him greatly, as does my cousin Greg Ratcliff, who was greatly inspired by Barney in scientific ways.

I did not know Uncle Barney all that well into his later years, which I regret. But I do have vivid memories of time spent with him and my dad’s eldest sister, my Aunt June, when I was young. Here are some of them:

THE HAWAIIAN ROOM

When it came to visiting relatives’ houses, Aunt June and Uncle Barney’s mid-century modern home in east Columbus, Ohio was hands-down THE BEST. I’m confident that my brother Kirk and many cousins would agree.

June and Barney did not have any kids, so they were extraordinarily patient with their many nieces and nephews, but the key attraction in visiting them was their back room. One step down from the kitchen, this room was decorated entirely in a Hawaiian theme: tiki hut bar, palm tree, waterfall, and a lot of plants. I don’t remember whether or not the plants were real, but the palm tree was not. It didn’t matter.

For a young child, this room was 100% fascination and playground for me and my cousins. We served each other “drinks” from the tiki hut, rearranged the water flow in the waterfall (which I don’t think we were supposed to do), and pretended to be in, of course, Hawaii. I wish I could see that room today, but the house was sold long ago.

PROFESSIONAL ROLE MODELS

Both June and Barney were professionals–rare role models for me as a youngster.  They worked in engineering at North American Aviation/Rockwell International, and June went on to pursue a creative career as a photographer (my brother and I appeared as child models in many Christian Sunday school collateral).

Uncle Barney, notably, designed many missiles for Rockwell and then Boeing. I remember going to company parties at the Rockwell Park and receiving models of the Space Shuttle that they helped to architect. This was exciting–to have a relative playing a role in the company making the next generation of space exploration in the 1970s and 1980s. It made an early impression on me seeing my uncle’s use of his mind to create things, and this exposure in part inspired my desire  go to college and have a professional career. Uncle Barney was curious–and I absorbed a small part of his considerable spark.

THE INTERNET

In 1990, I went to Atlanta to visit Aunt June and Uncle Barney when I was a senior in college. They relocated there in the early 1980s when Rockwell was bought by Boeing. I remember sitting with Uncle Barney at his desk while he showed me a unique new thing: the Internet.

Barney demonstrated how he and his defense contractor colleagues shared “instantaneous”  messages through this new technology. It took longer to push things through the tubes then, but this was my very first look at the Internet, introduced by my technologically advanced Uncle Barney. I thought it was pretty cool, and since then I’ve sent and received about a million emails.

Rest in Peace, Uncle Barney. Your star is still shining brightly in our memories.

Bottle Patrol

28 Jul

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Everyone has their thing.

My husband’s thing is to be OCD about windows and doors in the house, specifically windows and doors being open or closed at certain times of day. And fans being on or off at corresponding times of day, to maximize air flow in our “naturally” air-conditioned home.

And my thing is bottles. That’s right: bottles.

Specifically, it drives me crazy when people (i.e., my husband, and following in his footsteps my son) open a new bottle of something when there is already an available bottle that is not yet empty.

This is a significant issue in the refrigerator and in our bathroom. It happens with ketchup, mustard, pickles, and personal care products. I have come to believe that this issue is associated with the regular requests from my husband and son that go something like:

Where is my ___________?

Note that I get this question on a daily basis, in person, via text and voice mail. I can guarantee that if I have an early morning flight, as soon as I arrive at my destination I will hear this question from either my husband or my son.

Another variation on this same theme:

I can’t find the milk (I just bought) in the refrigerator. Where did you put it?

My response:

If you just bought it and put it in there, why can you not find it yourself? Do you still have eyes?

And,

Why do I have to know where all of your stuff is?

If I am not around to answer these questions, then a new bottle of (fill in the blank) gets opened.

I have dubbed myself “Bottle Patrol” in order to keep this problem in check. This is a real-life story about the hell I go through to keep this house organized in terms of bottles.

Two weeks ago, I had to consolidate body wash, dandruff shampoo, and conditioner in the bathroom because there were so many opened bottles of the same thing. It took me an hour to do this, upending bottles and draining them into corresponding already open bottles, rinsing out the empty ones, and putting empty and washed bottles into the recycling.

This morning, Bottle Patrol was on duty yet again. This is often the case after my husband makes the bi-weekly trip to Costco. He grew up Mormon and therefore has a natural instinct for stockpiling large amounts of supplies. The man has strong survivalist tendencies. His philosophy of “More is better” gets him in trouble with the Bottle Patrol.

Upon entering the bathroom this morning, I noticed that the problem I’d cleaned up two weeks ago had reappeared:

Three bottles of dandruff shampoo (two as of yet unopened) and two bottles of body wash (one still unopened) were overpopulating the shelf in the shower.

My response (he was not here to hear me say it):

No, no, and NO! Why do you keep doing this! We have tons of storage space for all your extra supplies. Why do you have to put the new bottles into rotation when the old one is not yet empty? Why, why, WHY?

I often go on to ask myself:

What does he think will happen that he puts so many flipping bottles of stuff in the shower? Will he for some reason be taking a shower and finish off the opened bottle of dandruff shampoo, and then have to be forced to open BOTH of the new bottles? The man has no hair. I cannot imagine this happening!

My son, as mentioned, has these same tendencies. Being a newly minted pre-teen, he is all of a sudden uber-hygiene-aware. He is stuck on Dove Men’s Body Wash EXTRA FRESH with Cooling Agent and Micro-Moisture. Promptly upon opening a new bottle, he announces:

Mom, I need more of the Dove Men’s Body Wash, THE GREEN EXTRA FRESH KIND. Can you get me three bottles?

Clearly, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree when it comes to bottle accumulation.

I will train that kid, but my husband is beyond help.

Family Time

4 Jul

I am currently at the Outer Banks in North Carolina, on vacation with my extended family. There are 18 of us in a four-story house, with five branches of the Edwards clan. Eleven of the group are under the age of 25. Man, this house is loud.

Some highlights:

  • Overhearing my 11-year-old son and his two similarly aged cousins having a discussion about “Monk” while hot tubbing. “Did you see the one where….?” About 100 times.
  • Grocery shopping with my husband, making quiches one afternoon in an empty kitchen while everyone was at the beach…and other fairly routine activities that are made all the better by having ZERO competing obligations or distractions.
  • There are more bathrooms in this house than I can precisely remember. I think there are eight. A real necessity with so many people. I could go on…
  • This house has fabulous AC, powered by the wonders of electricity. Back at my house in Columbus, the power has been out several times, and it has consistently been 100 degrees. Here, it is only in the upper 80s. Cue the “ha-ha” sound effect.
  • There are several children among the contingent of cousins with behaviors reminiscent of my own children’s when they were younger. I find them endearing, and at the same time am quite pleased to be beyond having to police my kids.

Probably the best part of the trip has been seeing my kids get to catch up with all of their cousins, who live in Maine, Florida, and California. It must be a very instinctive behavior to get goosebumps as a parent when all of the kids are together. Something tribal or clannish about this. I wish we all lived closer–but it’s impressive that everyone stays caught up via Facebook, Skype, and texting.

With this very large extended family of my husband’s, I often find myself being an observer. There are so many big, loud, lovable personalities to just sit back and watch. I’m thankful to experience the rollicking fun (and occasional insanity) of being in a big family. Good times.

 

Intellectual Elitism

22 Dec

Image: Evgeni Dinev / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The other day my son issued this complaint:

Mom, at my school the kids either don’t read or read boring baby books. There’s no one I can talk to. All of them are dumber than me.

Hearing this, I had a mixed reaction, which went something like this:

  1. This is what I thought: I wish the kids at his school read more.  My is smart, no genius, but intelligent enough to think differently than most, perhaps more than most, often to his detriment. He does have close friends at his school who are wicked smart–many smarter than him. But the whole class isn’t like that…and is probably rare at most schools. Should he be at a school where he’s surrounded by kids who think more like him?
  2. This is what I said: “Never stop reading what you enjoy. I am proud that you read books that high schoolers read. You are a smart kid. But NEVER, EVER think that this makes you better than anyone else.”
  3. This is what I thought about some more: My son is a lot like me. I was a voracious reader in school and as the resident oddball enjoyed Dickens when I was in 3rd grade. I went to a good enough school, a public school with teachers who challenged me, and I was both too shy to talk with anyone about what I read and unlikely to find anyone my age who was reading that. I’ve always been drawn to esoteric stuff that most other people find boring. Over the years, I have grown to accept that this is at times a self-imposed isolation. I need to get out more often and stop taking myself so seriously…this is MY lesson. As a parent and having gone through similar feelings when I was his age, how can I help my son to not feel like he’s alone? Luckily, my son’s intellectualism is balanced by a huge personality (something that he got more from my husband). I’m confident that this interesting mix will result in amazing results along the way, but not without a bit of sanding around the rough edges.
  4. This is the most important thing: In feeling that sense of being “the only one” who’s thinking beyond, or differently, how can my son not begin to think he’s better than everyone else? This brand of intellectual elitism can be found in the ranks of many people who live on the coasts, who believe that everyone in Middle America is an idiot. I have friends and relatives who feel this way and will probably offend them by saying this but don’t care since they’ve already offended me. I’ve also worked with people who felt this way, that because they were intellectually smarter they were innately better. My hackles go up anytime I catch a whiff of this brand of intellectually elitist thinking.

Intellectual intelligence is without doubt one of the ways that we as humans can leave our mark and improve quality of life for our fellow human beings. But it is not the only way.

Social intelligence–the ability to engage thoughtfully and with heart–is a huge force for change. Where would we be without the supportive words of our parents or the unexpected hug from a friend? Social intelligence can motivate individuals and change the world as much as intellectual intelligence–and maybe moreso.

I think it’s important to teach our children to appreciate their strengths and nurture them. It’s also important for them to remain humble and to use their intelligence as a way to innovate for the greater good–and connect with other people rather than becoming more distant from them.

Birthday Magic

21 Dec

Image: m_bartosch / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Yesterday was a good birthday. Let me count the ways:

  1. While I love my work, I was able to leave a bit early, and a minimum of annoyance happened throughout the day. While at work, I celebrated with a colleague who shares the same birthday by giving her a mix tape/CD that I made for her…I think she will like it.
  2. I got my new license, sliding in just under the wire 15 minutes before the BMV closed.
  3. I ate dark chocolate (during my last two conference calls of the day, phone on mute).
  4. My friend Ali Cloth gave me a yoga gift certificate and some beautiful flowers. Plus a great card with this hilarious message: “It’s so nice to have friends that are worth the time….otherwise I wouldn’t keep hanging around your ass.”
  5. Lots of people wished me happy birthday, thanks to the electronic reminders at work and on Facebook. It really is the best thing just to hear/read people say/write it!
  6. My husband made the most fabulous dinner: Medium rare filet mignon, giant baked potatoes with sour cream and freshly cut chives, and a lovely salad.
  7. My husband bought me the best birthday cake from a new bakery close to Graceland. Fluffy white cake with three layers of chocolate ganache and a butter cream icing (not too much, not too sweet). And hey, guess what’s for breakfast today?
  8. My kids and husband bought me a new set of Fiestaware (lime green)–since they know I like practical gifts. They also got me a new necklace and earrings, since they also know that I like personal gifts. Added bonus: The dishes came wrapped in a very large sheet of bubble wrap, which made a thunderous popping sound as I jumped up and down on top of it.
  9. And then, my kids and I watched all of “The Simpsons” Christmas episodes. I always believe it’s good to end the day with something sublime.
  10. Today, as I have my second piece of birthday cake for breakfast, the world will officially begin to become a brighter and better place. So even though it’s raining cats and dogs in Columbus, Oh. and becoming more like a rainforest by the second, the days are getting longer. Take THAT, crappy wet weather.

And that, my friends, is the making of birthday magic.

So Muchmas

19 Dec

Image: John Kasawa / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

I really am blessed. I have all of my family members around me, happy and healthy, as we close in on the holidaze.

Counting down, it’s just six days to Christmas. We had my family over yesterday. I enjoyed seeing my nephews, niece, sister-in-law, Mom, and Dad. I missed seeing my brother (but to be fair can see him anytime because he’s in town.)

My husband cooked up a big pancake breakfast, and I made real hot chocolate and smoothies for everyone. It felt good to get the house cleaned up and host a shin-dig. I particularly enjoyed watching my 3-year-old niece open her gifts (art stuff) and experiment with her new watercolors, paintbrushes, and over-sized SpongeBob coloring book.

There’s a bittersweet-ness to the holidays that has me down, though. I wish I felt closer to my family of origin. At this time of the year when everybody gathers around, there’s a sort of expectation that everything’s perfect. Well folks, it isn’t, in so many ways. Everybody has their story about this–nothing to feel ashamed or sorry for myself about–just reality.

My challenge this year, I think, is to break free of the expectations around Christmas. How much to spend. How much to feel that overwhelming sense of togetherness. How much to givegivegivegive. And forgive. How much to expect. That’s the problem with the holidays. It’s the “much-ness” that gets me down.

There’s an expectation that this time of year is the coming together of all that is good in life–family, acquisition, food and drink, generosity, the overall milk of human kindness. Yet when all of the pieces don’t come together it’s easy to feel disappointed and resentful. Like I am not working hard enough or am not innately good enough to attract that fairy dust of muchness around me.

In the end, families, friends, and life in general will be what they will be. Children will appreciate what suits them and not me. Parents will be themselves–not the superheroes that I at times imagine them to be. Friends will remember or not remember that my birthday is tomorrow and that I do not want a combined birthday-Christmas present (TAKE NOTE!). Husbands will be unnecessarily grumpy or inexplicably kind. And I can choose to take it all too seriously–or let it go and let it be.

Dad’s Christmas Miracle

9 Dec

Kenneth Norbert Ratcliff's senior picture: 1956

I just watched the latest Modern Family episode, “Express Christmas.”

Makes me think of my family: Full of idiosyncracies but lovable nonetheless.

Here’s an interesting family story, from our resident storyteller, Dad (who calls himself “The Lone Ranger”).

Forty-four years ago, shortly before Christmas (in late November, but close enough), Dad and his friend Cletus (yes, that is his name) were out on Buckeye Lake duck hunting. It was pretty cold.

Somehow, the boat overturned, and they both fell in. They were in the water for about half an hour, long enough to get hypothermia, and they were too far from shore to walk/swim back.

Luckily, there was a member of the Wolfe family (owners of the Columbus Dispatch) looking out the window of their house on Wolfe Island, in the middle of the lake, with a spotting scope. He saw them and reported to emergency officials, who went out onto the lake to fish them out.

What a happy lifesaving. About a month later, on Dec. 20, 1967, I was born.

Dad, I’m glad you made it! Even though we drive each other nuts, if I didn’t grow up with you I’d never have realized how much alike we are. Thanks for being in my life.

Apron Strings

17 Oct

When I turned 18, my mother gave me an apron. After I opened the gift, she took it from me, grabbed a pair of scissors and cut the apron strings. She said, “I am doing for you what my mother never did for me.”

With those words, she sent me on my independent way. I was halfway through my senior year of high school at the time. For Mom, the apron strings had great meaning. I understood and appreciated Mom’s gesture, and for good reason. My grandmother was overly protective and never able to let go of Mom. Up until the time she had her first bad stroke, Grandma was always there, hovering over Mom like she couldn’t take care of herself. She meddled in Mom’s adult relationships and always criticized her.

Mothering is not easy. It wasn’t easy for Grandma, whose husband left her to willingly fight in WWII despite flat feet and a bad asthma problem. He served her divorce papers at Christmastime midway through the war. My mom and uncle ate lots of ketchup sandwiches growing up, from the house my grandma ran in the South End for “unwed mothers.”

Grandma was smart and artsy. She also worked setting up the window display’s at the downtown department store, which in the 50s was “the place” to be. But she also smoked liked a chimney to manage anxiety issues and life in general. She was a hypochondriac. And she hated seeing men in uniforms. She did have issues, and goodness only knows what her married life was like. I’m sure there was fair blame on both sides.

I grew up being the one responsible for calling Grandma to come over to our house for dinners, because Mom just couldn’t deal with her. She treated Mom like she didn’t know anything. I think she was trying to protect her from getting hurt, too. But it didn’t work. When I was about 8, Mom started having severe agoraphobia. She was immobilized by fear when she left the house and had violent panic attacks. At her worst, she spent years confined to her bedroom. This from a person who loved being out and about. Occasionally she would try to go out, and I would accompany her as the one person she felt safe leaving the house with. Or, with her spatial memory, she would write out the grocery list for me to follow, aisle by aisle, and fixed me up with a blank check to the cashier at the corner store. Dad waited in the parking lot. He wasn’t much help.

One of my favorite things to do as a kid was go to Grandma’s and spend the night. At Grandma’s, we sketched or walked around the neighborhood and talked. We played card games, Trouble, Scrabble, pool, and a board game that her German dad carved and handpainted. Grandma was crafty in more ways than one. She made up rules for the game on the fly…rules that sometimes worked to my benefit and sometimes to hers. I always had favored status with her as the only granddaughter among five grandsons. She never dominated me the way she did with mom.

She did annoying but cute things like hide money in my pockets–despite being a case study for someone who would have been on the street without Social Security–and send me away from her house with grocery bags of government cheese and rice that she never ate, because she never ate anything. She called herself “Snake Hips.” We made each other laugh. We both wore goofy hats. She kept me apprised of the daily status of her “bowels” and once informed me that things had recently been “explosive.” Grandma was a fan of Metamucil.

When Grandma died, I was the saddest I’ve ever been. Mom was on vacation when it happened. I will never forget when the nursing home staffer told me, “Mrs. Foltz has expired.” Grandma would not have been happy to know that her life was given the same freshness metric of a Twinkie.

Mothering was not easy for Mom, either. I was an obedient kid but a rebellious teenager–typical but not a walk in the park. After she cut those apron strings, I had a total of five hotel parties with my friends during the rest of my senior year. I knew when it was going to happen the first time, because I could see her bright blue trench coat through the open curtains as I was waking up in the hotel room. She tried to let me go completely but had to set some limits on my behavior, being the parent and all. Mom kicked me out of the house twice during those six months, and I stayed at friends’ houses. Their moms were extraordinarily supportive without getting in the middle of Mom’s and my issues. It was a nice vacation, but by the end of the school year, I was living back at home, by my own choice.

Looking back, I think I wanted to be more mothered. Mom would be surprised by that after her own experiences with Grandma, and by my stretching the limits of what she could condone. But it’s true. I’ve developed friendships that give me that unconditional acceptance.

As I’ve grown up and seen for myself how difficult mothering can be, I have more appreciation for the challenges Mom went through. And Grandma. As a result of being mothered by both of them, I probably have by default landed on an in-between approach for my own kids. I am not always the best at being emotionally there, but I am very good at being in the moment with them when I’m “on.” I’m not perfect, but I’d like to think that I’ve taken the best of what both offered.

I guess the point of the apron string symbolism is this: You can cut the strings, but they’re still your kids. Yeah, they’re your kids, but you can’t control what they do, say or think. No cutting, or holding on too tight. May be best to put on the apron yourself and give them their own, and make the best of it in the middle ground.

Bite Me

15 Aug

Image courtesy of Bedbugger.com

My family has the adult equivalent of cooties: bedbugs.

No two ways about it. Confirmed by two different “bedbug experts.”

How did we get them? Who knows. Possibly through my travel or from a patient of my husband’s. We’re not dirty people, but there’s nothing like bedbugs to make you feel downright gross. It’s an instant source of shame. So pleasant to let your friends and family know about your newest guests, and how they can identify them under their own mattresses, behind pictures and electrical outlets, etc., etc.

Do many people get them? Yes, they do. We are not alone. I found a cheeky site called the Bed Bug Hub, hosted by the National Pest Management Association, reporting that:

Bed bugs are THE most difficult pest to treat, according to 76 percent of survey respondents, more so than cockroaches, ants and termites. As for where infestations occur, residences top the list with 89 percent of pest professionals treating bed bug infestations in apartments/condos and 88 percent treating bed bug infestations in single-family homes. Respondents also report other common areas, with 67 percent treating bed bug infestations in hotels/motels, 35 percent in college dormitories, 9 percent on various modes of transportation, 5 percent in laundry facilities, and 4 percent in movie theatres.

Did you read that? Why yes, it’s entirely possible that we got them from a movie theatre. But most likely, from my travel and overnights in hotels.

And, not surprisingly:

[T]he emotional and mental toll of experiencing a bed bug infestation can be severe and should not be taken lightly. Survey respondents report that 99% of clients who have had bed bugs were “upset and concerned” and 77% said such customers were “very upset and concerned.”

No doubt. Believe it. This is no fun. I think that I am better at imagining things are okay than my husband is. He hasn’t slept for nights. It’s not the bugs bugging him. We’ve only found a handful of them, truth be told. We are not in the “infestation” category by any means. But the worst thing about it is thinking about all of the potential consequences if left untreated. And the reason they’ve become more prevalent is because a lot of people cannot afford to treat them so just leave them be.

It’s the thought of the bugs, including where they are now and where they will be hiding tomorrow, underneath or behind something where we cannot see them.

And it’s the reactions of people once they find out that you have them. Many make the assumption that it has something to do with your hygiene…that it’s in some way YOUR fault. The truth is that bedbugs don’t discriminate: They like everyone’s blood, whether clean or dirty. They only come out at night, and what attracts them is warm-blooded people. The suckers are miniature, diabolical vampires.

Because of all this we are taking DRASTIC measures. Yes, I do mean DRASTIC. They must and will die. We are paying $3,200 for a combined heat and chemical treatment conducted by a professional exterminator. Here’s what they do:

  • Heat up each area of the house to a sustained temperature of 120 degrees. This will kill most of them.
  • Apply pesticides that kill the remaining bugs, including any eggs. (Did you know that they can lie dormant for 18 months? Just think of it…)
  • And then, we wait to see if they reappear. Because they are also killed by temperatures below 23 degrees, we are seriously considering a safety net treatment of our own in the winter, which will begin with us draining out our pipes, opening the windows, and leaving the house for a day.

Here’s what WE have to do before the exterminators begin their work:

  • Throw out and/or move out a bunch of stuff. Not because it has bedbugs, but because there’s a combined supply of an extra house’s worth of furniture and all-around stuff in the basement of our house, which we recently bought from my in-laws and where my nephew lived for a couple of years. As of this moment, my front yard is channeling the theme song from “Sanford and Son.” It’s full of items for the dumpster, which will arrive tomorrow. (More about my neighbors’ reaction to this in a minute.)
  • Wash everything–clothes, linens, furniture covers, anything fabric. Put it into sealed plastic bags. If it’s clothing that cannot be washed, dry it for 20 minutes at the highest possible heat. I even washed balls of yarn that I haven’t yet used for knitting.
  • Everything we wear out of the house at this point comes from a sealed plastic bag that ensures the clothing is bedbug-free. Everything. I cannot reinforce how much of a pain this is.
  • Vacuum everything, everywhere. Put bedbug covers on the beds. Do some spot treatments in the rooms where we’ve seen the bugs.
  • Repeat everything above as many times as necessary until it’s time for the exterminators.
  • Move all furniture away from the walls in every room and pray that our veneered furniture survives 120 degrees.

While the exterminators do their work, we get to go on a special bedbug vacation! Translation: We rent an affordable somewhat nice nearby hotel for two nights because we have to be away for that long. And we cancel our camping trip to Kelley’s Island, because instead we’ll be here doing post-exterminator cleanup.

So, this is going to be a $3,500 proposition all told.  Cha-ching.

The significant effed-upness of this was on my mind today when my husband told me that neighbors had called our area commission to complain about the furniture in our front yard. Bite me. We spent all day on Sunday getting it out there and the dumpster is coming tomorrow.

Our biggest mistake was our honesty in letting people know (and putting signs on the stuff) that NO ONE SHOULD TAKE IT because of the bedbugs. I’m convinced that this is the reason for the hulabaloo. How many people in our sort of upscale Columbus neighborhood have had bedbugs and not told their neighbors? I’m guessing more than a few.

And then we have the other side of the continuum. What percentage of the population will take furniture that possibly has bedbugs? From my personal estimation, a significant and disturbingly large number of not so discriminating fellows (all men, it’s true). In one situation, a man took a table that he was going to give to his daughter. Two hours later, I noticed that he’d brought the table back. Smart daughter!

There were probably 20 people who took furniture from the yard yesterday, even though it was clearly marked and we verbally warned them. And when I went out to the car this morning, at least a few people had gone through the piles and taken even more. I have to say that I was pretty shocked. Clearly, not enough people have been through this to know the real deal of bedbug removal. It ain’t pretty.

People don’t listen, and they don’t want to. They do not take this seriously. I’ve got spraypaint all over much of the furniture and on all of the trash bags with clothes and fabric stuff. And now we have some schmuck calling us to complain about our irresponsibility?

Bite me. Better yet, bedbug bite me.

We did talk with someone from the Columbus Health Department earlier today (after a very unhelpful call with them last week when they referred us to their website), and while at least this time they were available, they actually suggested that we have the furniture destroyed. My husband asked if a bonfire would work. I don’t think this is what they had in mind. Then on second thought, they said that what we’d done in terms of marking the furniture would do the trick. I’m glad we did the right thing, as embarrassing as it has been.

If I were not a nice person, I would wish the curse of these bedbugs on the person who called the commission. I guess it’s just one of those situations where you try to do the right thing and you just can’t please everyone all of the time.

I told a friend tonight that I’m going to install my 74-year-old father from SE Ohio on the front lawn. He will in no uncertain terms and with a highly unpleasant attitude tell nosy and judgmental neighbors to mind their own bedbugging business. In less polite words than that.

In closing, bedbugs suck: Blood, money and time.

Know the signs and do whatever you can to avoid getting them.